Straight, No Chaser: What are the Symptoms of HIV and AIDS?

This is the third in an ongoing series on HIV and AIDS.

  • For an explanation of what AIDS is, click here.
  • For an explanation of how HIV is contracted, click here.

The National Institutes of Health has a nice method of categorizing HIV signs and symptoms, which I’ll replicate here. There are several take home messages, and I’ll use the pictures to communicate them.

HIV signs-symptoms-2
HIV Positive Without Symptoms
Many people who are HIV-positive do not have symptoms of HIV infection, and symptoms only evolve as their condition deteriorates toward AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). Sometimes people living with HIV go through periods of being sick and then feel fine.
HIV signs-symptoms2
Signs and Symptoms of Early HIV
As early as two–four weeks after exposure to HIV (but sometimes as far out as three months later), people can experience an acute illness, often described as “the worst flu ever.” This is called acute retrovirus syndrome (ARS) or primary HIV infection. This represents the body’s natural response to HIV infection. During primary HIV infection, there are higher levels of virus circulating in the blood, which means that people can more easily transmit the virus to others.
Symptoms resemble a flu-like syndrome, including fever, chills, nights sweats, muscle aches and fatigue. Other symptoms may include a rash, sore throat, swollen lymph nodes and ulcers in mouth. It is important to state that not everyone gets ARS when they become infected with HIV.
hiv-and-aids ss3
Signs and Symptoms of Chronic or Latent Phase HIV
After the initial infection and seroconversion, the virus becomes less active in the body, although it is still present. During this period, many people do not have any symptoms of HIV infection. This period is called the ‘chronic’ or ‘latency’ phase. This period can last up to 10 years—sometimes longer.

HIV opportunistic-infections-4

Signs and Symptoms of AIDS
While the virus itself can sometimes cause people to feel sick, most of the severe symptoms and illnesses of HIV disease come from the opportunistic infections that attack the infected individual’s compromised immune system.
When HIV infection progresses to AIDS, many people begin to suffer from fatigue, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, fever, chills, night sweats, and even wasting syndrome at late stages.
Unless symptoms are discovered late, HIV/AIDS is much better being diagnosed early based on risk factors and exposures. That said, use the knowledge provided to prompt evaluation and testing.
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